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March 8, 2018

KP Assembly spends more on foreign tours than Punjab PA

Top Story

March 8, 2018

ISLAMABAD: As the assemblies are nearing their five-year terms, the smaller Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly has beaten the three-time bigger Punjab Assembly in terms of spending on its members through foreign trips and salary raise, official data obtained by The News revealed.

Certified information obtained through the Right to Information Law shows that despite being a third of the size of the Punjab Assembly, the KP Assembly spent three-time more on foreign visits of its members and staff as compared to legislators in the Punjab during the last five years.

Interestingly, according to the KP Assembly website, the house passed five laws during as many years to enhance salaries and perks of provincial assembly members and cabinet members while during the same period not a single such law was passed by the Punjab Assembly.

The data, however, shows that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led KP Assembly passed more laws ever since its inception after 2013 elections as compared to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led Punjab Assembly. The Punjab Assembly passed 163 government bills in five years while the KP Assembly passed as many as 172 bills, which included 29 private member bills.

The data shows the KP Assembly, which has 124 members, spent Rs53.6 million on foreign tours while the Punjab Assembly with the strength of 371 members spent only Rs16.5 million on foreign tours of its members.

The certified data shows that only eight members of the Punjab Assembly went on foreign tours during the last five years while in KP over 60 members of assembly embarked on state-funded foreign tours.

The data was obtained through respective provincial Right to Information (RTI) laws by this correspondent in collaboration with the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI), a civil society organisation working on the RTI.

The KP Assembly Speaker, Asad Qaiser, travelled abroad 10 times, including six trips to England, and one trip each to the United States, Iran, Scotland and Africa. Qaiser spent Rs5.5 million from the provincial budget on his trips while Information Technology Special Secretary Attaullah Khan had spent Rs4.1 million of the public exchequer on foreign visits. In addition, Rs2.9 million was spent by the KP Assembly Special Secretary to the Speaker Syed Wiqar Shah on foreign trips.

MPAs, provincial ministers, advisers, parliamentary secretaries and even the opposition members of the assembly have used the public money to undertake these visits. The provincial assembly’s special secretary for information technology had visited eight countries during his tenure, while special secretary of the speaker of the provincial assembly visited six countries.

Also the KP Assembly passed five bills to increase perks and privileges of its members. These bills include The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Salaries, Allowances and Privileges Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the KP Ministers Salaries Allowances and Privilege (Amendment) Bill, 2014, The KP Salary Allowances and Privileges Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministers Salaries & Allowances (Amendment) Bill 2014.

When contacted for version, KP Parliamentary Secretary for Law & Parliamentary Affairs Nagina Khan said since the PTI government had eliminated all the means of corruption for members, they were being compensated with enhanced salaries, perks, etc.

However, in a recent press conference, PTI chief Imran Khan admitted that his party MPAs accepted bribe in Senate elections to vote against the party candidates. “Previously, MPAs used to get quota in jobs and get their favorites appointed against various posts. But now the members are totally dependent on their salaries and there are no other means to make money,” she said. When asked why five separate bills had been passed to enhance salaries, she said, “It is always good to bring change slowly otherwise it could become a media issue”.

On the other hand, information received from the Punjab Assembly shows that Rs16.5 million were spent from the taxpayers’ money on foreign tours of MPAs and staff of the assembly secretariat.

Interestingly, in Punjab the total amount (Rs10.8 million) spent on tours of assembly officials is twice the amount spent on MPs (Rs5.6 million). The data shows Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Muhammad Iqbal visited London thrice while spending an amount of Rs2.05 million from the national exchequer on these visits. All his visits were conducted to attend the CPA meetings, according to the information provided by the Punjab Assembly secretariat.

Deputy Speaker Punjab Assembly Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani spent Rs1.05 million on his maiden visit to Columbus (USA) in 2016. He was there to attend the general conference of International Federation of Library Association (IFLA).

Mian Tariq Mehmood of PML-N who made six trips abroad -- the most by any member -- spent an amount of Rs2.9 million on these tours. He told The News that visits were made to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) meeting. He said it was the declared policy of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to stop unnecessary foreign trips of MPAs, which were used in the past as a form of political bribe.

The PML-N member claimed that all his visits were sponsored by CPA. However, the Public Information Officer of Punjab government Abeeda Haroon told The News that the visits were partly funded from the public exchequer. “The expenditure incurred were in accordance with the government of Punjab letter No.FD.SR.I-83/07 dated 15th March 2007.” She said 30 percent daily allowance is only admissible to the participants if the tour is sponsored by the host.

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